There's No Wrong Way to Eat a Message

By , March 1, 2010 8:25 pm

by Keith Pitts

Like this very tasty Reese’s peanut butter cup, there’s no wrong way to get your groove on with social media. Social media is achieving a unique visibility, and with that visibility, a greater influence. We can all take cues from how firms, companies, and news conglomerates are using these channels to build their networks and disseminate their influence and information. But what is it, really? And should we jump on the blogwagon, the Tweetwagon, and the Facebookwagon?

The differentiating adjective, “social”, separates these beasts from “industrial” media (or: “traditional,” “broadcast,” “mass”). These new media tout an added value of reach, accessibility, usability, recency/immediacy, and permanence (or lack thereof: they can be changed and appended on the fly.) Social media allow a multilateral level of interaction and community not possible with other electronic communication media. But despite and given these distinctions, are they worth the bother?

Between a quarter to a third of the top 100 law firms are active on Twitter, a smaller proportion using Facebook, and a great many using blogs and/or newsletters. But what of the wider world, and the narrower? Are world news giants buying into the phenom? Let’s look at two representatives of big news (my favorites): The New York Times (NYT) and BBC. First, NYT. The evidence that NYT supports and uses social media is pretty resounding:

  • Less than a year ago NYT hired, yes, a “Social Media Editor
  • The NYT Twitter feed has over 2 million followers, posts dozens of Tweets daily, and has 22 subcategories by which one can tailor their consumption
  • They have RSS feeds (relatively synonymous with blogs) in over 100 flavors
  • And, more than a dozen podcasts

One thing they don’t have is an official NYT Facebook page. This makes sense, as Facebook is a tool more suited as community space than a serial information (e.g., news) portal.

The song of the “Beeb” is much the same tune:

  • They’re pushing their reporters to use social media (oddly, reported in the Guardian)
  • Twitter feed (with a woeful 30,000-odd followers, and no categorization)
  • RSS
  • Podcasts
  • No anointed Facebook presence

Beyond these magnates, we’re all watching the throes of industrial news media, as network television suffers and newspapers drop off. Social media may be their paddle of salvation. But is that social media paddle-of-salvation our means to audience expansion?

Sure, the wider world is accepting it out of necessity, but what of the narrower world, our world? What of our librarian comrades? Social media pioneers among us have put AALL on Facebook (612 members): Robyn showed us the shining exemplar of NOCALL, (though there are, of course, several others). Of the other mega-medium, there are far fewer chapters a-Twitter: AALL has a Twitter presence, as do some chapters (e.g., ALLUNY.) Perhaps chapters don’t publish enough material to make Tweeting, a medium more facilitative of news dissemination than community-building, worth it.

In summary, it’s out there. Folks are using social media–but with so many options, your use of the medium will determine its efficacy. Just as the author of the recent Spectrum article articulates, the patrons of social media will only use the medium if they get something out of it. Social media simply allows us to reach more “someones” to feed our “something.” Increasing and broadening our use of social media only makes sense if our current media is lacking in any of those five attributes in which social media shines: reach, accessibility, usability, recency/immediacy, and permanence.

We wouldn’t be here talking about social media if we didn’t believe we have that special “something” and a “someone” to “feed” it to. Social media allows us to reach a larger audience with more current information. And, it allows us to establish valuable connections that just weren’t possible with earlier media. The fact that it’s troubling us enough to speak of it means that we do need to trouble ourselves with it.

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